Church of Scotland: A Short History
Historically, by 1901 the membership of the Church of Scotland had reached 662,000. Its leading competitors included the Free Church of Scotland (288,000) the United Presbyterian Church (194,000) and the Scottish Episcopal Church (47,000). There were also Baptists and Methodists with a growing number of Roman Catholics, composed mainly of Irish immigrants, settling in industrial centres such as Glasgow. The 21st century building on the 20th has witnessed within Scotland the rise of further religious groupings -- not least those associated with Islam.
The purpose of this article is to trace the growth of the Scottish ” Kirk “ as a whole, defining the views on which it was based and the organization in which they took form. The controversies within the Church of Scotland have not arisen out of matters of faith but out of practical questions of church government and of the relation of church and state. Holding a church theory to which the rulers of the country were for a century strongly opposed, Scotland became the leading exponent of Presbyterianism; and this note has been the dominant one in her religious history even in recent times.
The Scottish Reformation came out of a covenant in which the barons, inspired by John Knox, then abroad, bound themselves in 1557 to oppose the Roman Catholic religion and to promote the cause of the Reformation. When Reforma parliament, on the 24th of August 1560, passed the acts abolishing the papal jurisdiction and the mass in Scotland, it was able, as Knox had been preparing for this crisis, to sanction a new confession of faith for the Reformed church. Other documents of the new system were quickly forthcoming. The First Book of Discipline Discipline, set forth the whole of the proposed religious and educational constitution, and this book speaks of “ the order of Geneva which is now in use in some of our churches.” This order, afterwards with some modifications known as John Knox’s Liturgy, and used in the church down to the reign of Charles I., is a complete directory of worship, with forms of all the services to be held in the church.
The type of religion found in these documents is that of Geneva, the unit being the self-governing congregation, and the great aim of the system the pure preaching of the Word. The congregation elect the minister; in no other way can he enter on his functions; but once elected and admitted he is recognized as a free organ of the divine spirit, not subject in spiritual things to any earthly authority but that of his fellow ministers; the word of God is the supreme authority, and the spoken word of God the vital element of every religious act. The word of God is to prevail in all matters, in conduct as well as doctrine, and in the affairs of government as well as in the church. The terrible power of excommunication is claimed for the church; but the council of the realm also is called to use the power given them by God to put down all religion but the reformed, and to further the aims and carry out the sentences of the church. It was a matter of course that saints’ days and church festivals were abolished as having no warrant in Scripture; Sunday alone remained, as the principal day of preaching. In towns a week-day was to be set apart for the “ exercise or public interpretation of Scripture", in which all qualified persons in the neighbourhood were to take part, as if the whole country were a school of the Bible.
The First Book of Discipline does not set forth any complete scheme of church government. Its arrangements are in part provisional. In addition to the minister, who is its most definite figure and proved to be the most permanent, it recognizes the superintendent, the lay elder and the reader. Ten or twelve superintendents were to be appointed, “a thing most expedient at this time.” They were parish ministers and subject like their brethren to church courts; their added function was to plant churches, and place ministers, elders and deacons where required. This was also the duty of “commissioners” who were superintendents over smaller territories and for a shorter term. Whether the superintendents were meant to be permanent in the church is not clear. The lay elder was very much what he is still.
The reader was to conduct service when no minister was available, reading the Scriptures and the Common Prayer. When there was preaching, it was accompanied by free prayer; the liturgy was not then called for. Of church courts the assembly is taken for granted, having existed from the first; the minor church courts are not yet defined, though the elements of each of them are present. A noble scheme of education was sketched for the whole country, but neither this nor the provision made for ministers’ stipends was carried out, the revenues of the old church, from which the expenses of both were to be paid, being in the hands of the barons.
The system naturally took time to get into working order. The old clergy, bishops, abbots and priests were still on the ground, and were slow to take service in the new church. In 1574 there were 289 ministers and 755 readers; in the district of the presbytery of Auchterarder, which now has fifteen parishes, there were then four ministers and sixteen readers. As the ranks of the clergy slowly filled, questions arose which the Reformation had not settled, and it was natural that the old system with which the country was familiar should creep in again. Presbytery was never much in favour with the crown, this was the case in other countries as well as in Scotland, and when the crown, so weak at the Reformation, gained strength, encroachments were made on the popular character of the kirk; while the barons also had obvious reasons for not wishing the kirk to be too strong.
The first parliament of the Regent Murray (1567), while confirming the establishment of the Reformed church as the only true church of Christ, settling the Protestant succession, and doing something to secure the right of stipend to ministers, reintroduced lay patronage, the superintendent being charged to induct the patron’s nominee, an infringement of the reformed system against which the church never ceased to protest. In 1572 a kind of Episcopacy was set up in the interest of the nobles, who in order to draw the income of the episcopal sees had to arrange with men possessing a legal title to them. These bishops did not make the episcopal office respected in the country; but their appointment was not opposed by the church leaders. They had no episcopal ordination, nor did they exercise any authority over their brother ministers., Knox was called to preach the sermon at the admission of one of them, John Douglas, to the archbishopric of St Andrews, and while he denounced both patron and presentee for the corrupt bargain they had made, he did not protest against the office of bishop as contrary to the constitution of the church.
To this declaration, however, the church soon came. Andrew Melville came to Scotland at this time, and became the leader of the church in place of Knox, who died in 1572. He brought with him from Geneva, where he had been the colleague of Beza, a fervent hatred of ecclesiastical tyranny and a clear grasp of the Presbyterian church system. The Scottish church, hitherto without a definite constitution, soon espoused under his able leadership a logical and thorough’ Presbyterianism, which was expressed in the Second Book of Discipline, adopted by the assembly in 1577, and was never afterwards set aside by the church when acting freely. The assembly of 1575 decided that all ministers were Discipline bishops; that of 1578 abolished the name of bishop as denoting an office in the church, and that of 1580 in spite of a royal remonstrance abolished Episcopacy, a decree to which all the bishops except five submitted.
The Second Book of Discipline recognizes four kinds of office in the church, and no one can lawfully be placed in any of them except by being called to it by the members. Pastor, bishop and minister are all titles of the same office, that of those who preach the word and administer the sacraments, each to a particular congregation. The doctor is a teacher in school or university; he is an elder and assists in the work of government. Elders are rulers; their function also is spiritual, though practical and disciplinary. The fourth office is that of the deacons, who have to do with matters of property and are not members of church courts. Neither superintendent nor reader now appears; all the functions of bishops and superintendents are vested in the elderships, or church courts, and it is urged that the parts which still remain in Scotland of the old system should be cleared away and the sole jurisdiction of the kirk, as then constituted, recognized. The assembly is to have the right to fix its own time of meeting, and its decision in matters ecclesiastical is not to be subject to any review. Kirk-sessions and presbyteries are not named, but the principles are clearly laid down on which these institutions were to rest.
By committing herself to this system the Church of Scotland established between herself and the Church of England a division which became more and more apparent and was the main cause of much of her subsequent sufferings. It is no doubt strange that she should have endured so much not for any great Christian principle, but for a question of church government. On the other hand, Presbyterianism stood in Scottish history for freedom, and for the rights of the middle and lower classes against the crown and the aristocracy; and it might not have been held with such tenacity or proved so incapable of compromise but for the opposition and persecution of the three Stuart kings. The history of the Scottish church for a century after the date of the Book of Discipline is that of a religious struggle between the people and the crown.
For some years after its inception Presbyterianism carried all before it. The presbyteries came quickly into existence; that of Edinburgh dates from 1580. In that year it was found that there were 924 parishes in Scotland, but not nearly all supplied with ministers; it was proposed that there should be 50 presbyteries (in 1910 there were 84) and 400 ministers. A great part of the country, especially in the north and west, had not yet been reached by the Reformation. At this time began the long series of attempts made by James VI. in the direction of curbing Presbyterian liberty and of the restoration of Episcopacy. In 1584 were passed the acts called the Black Acts, which made it treason to speak ill of the bishops, declared the king to be supreme in all causes and over all persons, thus subverting the jurisdiction of the church, and made all conventions illegal except those sanctioned by the king. The bishops were to do what had hitherto been done by the assembly and presbyteries, and no attacks were to be made at religious meetings on the king or council. Other acts followed by which the episcopate was strengthened, though the act of 1587 annexing the temporalities of the bishops to the crown, while fatal to the old episcopate, made the prospects of the new more doubtful. In 1588 a change took place. A Roman Catholic rising threw James into the arms of the kirk; in 1592 the acts of 1584 were abrogated, the Second Book of Discipline legalized and Presbytery established. The church was at the time very powerful, the people generally sympathiaing with her system, and her assemblies being attended by many of the nobles and the foremost men., Discipline was strict; the temper of the church was in accordance with the Old rather than the New Testament.
Another sudden change took place a few years later, James falling out of humour with the church on the question of the restoration of the Roman Catholic lords and angered by the free criticism of some of the ministers. Basilicon Doron, published in 1599, shows a determination to make the church episcopal. With this end assemblies, from which Melville was excluded, and which were otherwise tampered with and terrorized, were got to agree that a number of ministers should sit in parliament, and to surrender the assembly’s right of meeting. On his accession to the throne of England in 1603 James entered on a new set of attempts to assimilate the Scottish church to that of England. Melville was brought to London, imprisoned and sent abroad; other ministers who had acted or spoken too freely were banished. The powers of the bishops were increased, and their brethren brought in various ways under subjection to them, and in 1609 two courts of high commission were set up by the royal authority with plenary powers to enforce conformity to the new arrangements. In 1610 three ministers were called to London to be consecrated as bishops, as if there had till now been no bishops in Scotland; these on their return consecrated ten others. In 1612 the act of 1592 which established Presbytery was rescinded, and Episcopacy became the legal church system of Scotland.
In all this it was the position and rights of the clergy that were assailed; and James showed kindness to the church in seeking to secure that stipends should be paid and that new churches should be provided where required.
The people had been less interfered with; the change of church government involved no change in the conduct of worship. But the articles passed by the packed assembly of Perth in 1618 touched on the religious habits and postures of the people, and in this it soon appeared that a crisis had been reached.
These famous articles were: (1) That the communion should be received kneeling; (2) That it might be administered in private; (3) That baptism might be in the home; (4) That children of eight should be taken to the bishop for examination and his blessing; (5) That Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Whitsunday should be observed.
These articles were opposed in parliament and were strongly resented throughout the country. When Charles became king in 1625 he at once let it be known that the Articles of Perth were not to be abrogated, and that no meeting of the assembly was to be allowed. During the first years of his reign he was occupied in other directions; but when he came to Scotland in 1633 to be crowned, Laud came with him, and though like his father he showed himself kind to the clergy in matters of stipend, and adopted measures which caused many schools to be built, he also showed that in the matter of worship the policy of forcing Scotland into uniformity with England was to be carried through with a high hand. A book of canons and constitutions of the church which appeared in 1636, instead of being a digest of acts of assembly, was English in its ideas, dealt with matters of church furniture, exalted the bishops ,and ignored the kirk-session and elders. The liturgy was ordered to be used, which had not yet appeared, but which proved to be a version, with somewhat higher doctrine, of the Anglican Common Prayer. The introduction of this service book in St Giles’s Church, Edinburgh, on the 16th of July 1637, occasioned the tumult of which Jenny Geddes will always figure as the heroine.
The sentiment was echoed throughout all of Scotland. National Petitions against the service book and the book of covenant. canons poured in from every quarter; the tables or committee formed to forward the petition rapidly became a powerful government at the head of a national movement, the action of the crown was temporizing, and on the 28th of February the National Covenant was signed in the famous scene in Greyfriars church and churchyard.
This document consisted of three parts: (1) A covenant signed by King James and his household in 1580, to uphold Presbyterianism and to defend the state against Romanism; (2) A recital of all the acts of parliament passed in the reigns of James and Charles in pursuance of the same objects; and (3) The covenant of nobles, barons, gentlemen, burgesses, ministers and commons to continue in the reformed religion, to defend it and resist all contrary errors and corruptions.
The Covenant was no doubt an act of revolt against legal authority, and can only be justified on the ground that the crown had for many years acted oppressively and illegally in its attempt to coerce Scotland into a religious system alien to the country, and that the subjects were entitled to free themselves from tyranny. The crown was unable either to check the popular movement or to come to any compromise with it, and the Glasgow assembly of 1638, the first free assembly that had met for thirty years, proceeded to make the church what the Covenant required. A clean sweep was made of the legislation of the preceding period; the five articles of Perth, the service book and book of canons and the court of high commission were all condemned. The bishops were tried not for being bishops but on exaggerated charges of false doctrine and loose living; and all were deposed from the ministry. Many ministers were also deposed on the charge of Arminianism. It wasby an assembly that the second reformation was effected; but the assembly contained the most influential of the nobility and gentry, and was carried on the crest of a great national movement. The Covenant was accepted by parliament in 1639.
The succeeding decennium is the culminating period of Scottish Presbyterianisin, when, having successfully resisted the crown, it not only was supreme in Scotland but exercised a decisive influence over England. The causes which brought about this state of affairs are to be sought to a large extent in the civil history of England. Presbytery was rapidly growing in that country, and the English parliament sought the alliance of the assembly, while the Independents, though in the event Presbytery was as little to their liking as Episcopacy, joined in the wish to get rid of the episcopal system. In its period of triumph the Presbyterianism of Scotland displayed its character. After the injustice and persecution it had suffered it could scarcely prove moderate or tolerant; it showed a vehement determination to carry out the truth it had vindicated with such enthusiasm, to the full extent and wherever possible. The Covenant, at first a standard of freedom, was immediately converted into a test and made the instrument of oppression and persecution. All policy was to be determined by the Covenant; the king and every official was to be obliged to take it. The mind of the nation being so preoccupied with the Covenant, it naturally followed that those who carried their fanaticism farthest were ready to denounce and to unchurch those who showed any inclination to moderation and political sanity, and that the beginnings of schism soon appeared in the ranks of the Covenanters.
In 1643, when the full legal establishment of Presbytery had just been consummated, the assembly, asked by the English parliament to arrange a league to be signed in both countries for the furtherance of reformed religion, agreed, but asked that the league should be a religious one. The result was the Solemn League and Covenant.
The league did not mention Presbyterianism; but the assembly had refused to hear of any recognition of independency; if religion were thoroughly reformed, they considered the result must be Presbyterianism in England as in Scotland. In the Westminster Standards also, which were the fruit of the Scottish desire for a religious uniformity, Scotland did not obtain by any means all it desired in its church documents. The Scottsh divines in the Westminster Assembly were only five in number, while the assembly contained effective parties of Erastians and Independents. The Confession of Faith contains no approval of any system of church government, and when she adopted it in 1647 the kirk gave up her old confession in which the principles at least of true church order are laid down. In accepting in 1645 the Westminster Directory of Public Worship she tacitly gave up her own liturgy which had been in use till recently, and committed herself to a bald and uninviting order of worship, in which no forms of prayer were allowed to be used. So much did Scotland for the sake of uniformity accept from England. The metrical psalms also, whichare still sung in Scottish churches, were adopted at this time; they are based mainly on the version, which had been approved by the Westminster Assembly, of Francis Rouse (1579—1659), a member of the English House of Commons.
The engagement made with Charles, then a prisoner in the Isle of Wight in 1647, which promised him support on condition of his sanctioning the Solemn League and Covenant and pledging himself to set up after three years a church according to the Confession of Faith, was protested against by the assembly; and from this came the famous “Act of Classes” by which the Covenanters disqualified for public office and even for military service all who had been parties to the engagement. The rescinding of this act in 1651 led to a serious breach in the ranks of the Scottish clergy. The Resolutioners, or supporters of the resolution to rescind that act, were opposed by the Protesters, the rigid adherents to the strictest interpretation of the Covenant. The period of the Commonwealth was filled with the strife between these two parties, its bitterness not lessened by the fact that the assembly dissolved in 1653 by Cromwell’s soldiers was not allowed to meet again in his protectorate. The Protesters, who were in favour with the common people, are chargeable with having brought into Scottish church life the observance of fastdays, and of the long and excited Communion services which were kept up for two and a half centuries and may still be witnessed in the Highlands.
If the mismanagement of Scottish religious affairs under James and Charles I. is a melancholy story, what took place under Charles II. is infinitely sadder. A series of blunders were committed in the attempt to compel Scotland to against submit to the religion the government prescribed, and the failure of each measure was followed by more inhuman severities. Detail is impossible here.
From the first Charles II showed himself determined to force Episcopalianism on Scotland, and not too scrupulous in the choice of methods for securing his ends. The attempt was nearly successful. In the greater part of the country little change took place in the religious services. The service book was not read nor kneeling at communion required, and it made no immediate difference to the people that the clergy should be under bishops. The inferior church courts still sat, though not the assembly. At the Restoration it was a question whether the bulk of the population was in favour of Presbytery or of Episcopacy. But the matter was handled in such a way in the west of Scotland that an extreme Covenanting spirit arose, nourished on intolerable grievances, and that the nation as a whole decided against the system which had been promoted by such means.
The Rescissory Act of 1661 swept away the legislation of the preceding twenty years, and so disposed of the Presbyterian polity of the church. Episcopacy was restored by a letter from the king on the 5th of September 1661. James Sharp , Fairfoul, James Hamilton (1610—1674) and Robert Leighton were the new bishops; Sharp and Leighton having to be ordained as deacons, then as priests, before the consecration, and the party travelling to Scotland in state, though Leighton left them before crossing the border. An act requiring all ministers appointed during the period when patronage was abolished to get presentation from their patrons and institution from their bishops was applied in the west of Scotland in such a way that 300 ministers left their manses. Their places were filled with less competent men whom the people did not wish to hear, and so conventicles began to be held. The attempts to suppress these, the harsh measures taken against those who attended them or connived at them, or refused to give information against them, the military violence and the judicial seventies, the confiscations, imprisonments, tortures, expatriations, all make up a dreadful narrative. Indulgences were tried, and were,successful in bringing back about 100 ministers to their parishes and introducing a new cause of division among the clergy.
On the other hand, the Covenanting spirit rose higher and higher among the persecuted till the armed risings took place and the formal rebellion of a handful of desperate men against the ruler of three kingdoms. The story of Richard Cameron s one of the highest romantic heroism; his name was perpetuated in that of the Cameronian body ("first-born of the Scottish sects “), which, as the Reformed Presbyterian Church, kept up a separate existence till 1876, when it united wit’h the Free Church, and in that of the Cameronian regiment, originally formed from his followers after his death and distinguished since in every part of the world. The proclamation of toleration in 1685 was intended mainly for Roman Catholics and excluded field preachers.
When William landed in England in 1688, the scene changed in Scotland. The soldiery was withdrawn from the west, and the people at once showed their feelings by, the “rabbling” or ejection of the curates who occupied the manses of the ousted ministers, in which, however, no lives were lost. William would have decided for Episcopacy in Scotland, as the great body of the nobles and gentry adhered to it, but only on condition that the Episcopalians agreed to support him and that they had the people with them. Neither of these conditions was fulfilled.
On the 22nd of July the Convention which declared the throne vacant and called William and Mary to fill it, declared in its Claim of Right that prelacy and the superiority of any office in the church above ministers had been a great and insupportable grievance to Scotland. Effect was given to this; and in April 1690 the act was passed on which the establishment of the Church of Scotland rests, the Westminster Confession being recognized, the laws in favour of Episcopacy repealed, though the Rescissory Act remained on the statute book, and the assembly appointed to meet. The Covenants were not mentioned; at his coronation William had refused to be a persecutor, and he desired that the church should embrace all who were willing to be in it. The Revolution church contained from the first men of different views. Its first assembly in 1690 received into the church the three remaining ministers of the Cameronians, though their followers refused to come with them. With regard to Episcopalian ministers, by whom the majority of parishes were served, there was more difficulty. The Presbyterians were not ready for union with them, and many of them were put out of their livings, ostensibly by way of discipline. The king and his representatives at the assembly pressed hard for their reception, and in 1693 the “Act for settling the quiet and peace of the Church” was passed, which provided for their admission on taking the oaths of allegiance and assurance, subscribing the Confession of Faith and acknowledging Presbyterian government. This act fixed the formula of subscription to be signed by all ministers.
From this time forward the church, while jealously asserting her spiritual independence, was on the side of the crown against the Jacobites, and became more and more an orderly and useful ally of the state. In 1697 the Barrier Act was passed, which provides that any act which is to be binding on the church is to come before the assembly as an overture and to be transmitted to presbyteries for their approval. The difficulties which threatened to arise about the union were skilfully avoided; the Act of Security provided that the Confession of Faith and the Presbyterian government should “continue without any alteration to the people of this land in all succeeding ages,” and the first oath taken by Queen Anne at her accession was to preserve it. The Act of Toleration of 1712 allowed Episcopalian dissenters to use the English liturgy. This had not hitherto been done, and the claim of the Episcopalians for this liberty had been the occasion of a bitter controversy. The same parliament restored lay patronage in Scotland, an act against which the church always protested and which was the origin of great troubles.
Presbytery, being loyal to the house of Hanover, while Episcopacy was Jacobite, was now in enjoyment of the royal favour and was treated as a firm ally of the government. But while the church as a whole was more peaceful, more courtly, more inclined to the friendship of the world than at any former time, it contained two well-marked parties. The Moderate party, which maintained its ascendancy till the beginning of the 19th century, sought to make the working of the church in its different parts as systematic and regular as possible, to make the assembly supreme, to enforce on presbyteries respect for its decisions, and to render the judicial procedure of the church as exact and formal as that of the civil courts.
The Popular party, regarding the church less from the side of the government, had less sympathy with the progressive movements of the age, and desired greater strictness in discipline. The main subject of dispute arose at first from the exercise of patronage. Presbyteries in various parts of the country were still disposed to disregard the presentations of lay patrons, and to settle the men desired by the people; but legal decisions had shown that if they acted in this way their nominee, while legally minister of the parish, could not claim the stipend. To the risk of such sacrifices the church, led by the Moderate party, refused to expose herself. By the new policy inaugurated by Dr William Robertson (1721—1793), which led to the second secession, the assembly compelled presbyteries to give effect to presentations, and in a long series of disputed settlements the “call,” though still held essential to a settlement, was less and less regarded, until it was declared that it was not necessary, and that the church courts were bound to induct any qualified presentee. The substitution of the word concurrence” for “ call” about 1764 indicates the subsidiary and ornamental light in which the assent of the parishioners was now to be regarded. The church could have given more weight to the wishes of the people; she professed to regard patronage as a grievance, and the annual instructions of the assembly to the commission (the committee representing the assembly till its next meeting) enjoined that body to take advantage of any opportunity which might arise for getting rid of the grievance of patronage, an injunction which was not discontinued till 1784.
It is not likely that any change in the law could have been obtained at this period, and disregard of the law might have led to an exhausting struggle with the state, as was actually the case at a later period. Still it was in the power of the church to give more weight than she did to the feelings of the people; and her working of the patronage system drove large numbers from the Establishment. A melancholy catalogue of forced settlements marks the annals of the church from 1749 to 1780, and wherever an unpopular presentee was settled the people quietly left the Establishment and erected a meeting-house. In 1763 there was a great debate in the assembly on the progress of schism, in which the Popular party laid the whole blame at the door of the Moderates, while the Moderates rejoined that patronage and Moderatism had made the church the dignified and powerful institution she had come to be.
In 1764 the number of meeting-houses was 120, and in 1773 it had risen to 190. Nor was a conciliatory attitude taken up towards the seceders. The ministers of the Relief desired to remain connected with the Establishment, but were not suffered to do so. Those ministers who resigned their parishes to accept calls to Relief congregations, in places where forced settlements had taken place, and who might have been and claimed to be recognized as still ministers of the church, were deposedand forbidden to look for any ministerial communion with the clergy of the Establishment. Such was the policy of the Moderate ascendancy, or of Principal Robertson’s administration, on this vital subject.
It had the merit of success in so far as it completely established itself in the church. The presbyteries ceased to disregard presentations, and lay patronage came to be regarded as part of the order of things. But the growth of dissent steadily continued and excited alarm from time to time; and it may be questioned whether the peace of the church was not purchased at too high a price. The Moderate period is justly regarded as in some respects the most brilliant in the history of the church. Her clergy included many distinguished Scotsmen, among them Thomas Reid, George Campbell, Adam Ferguson, John Home, Hugh Blair, William Robertson and John Erskine. The labours of these men were not mainly in theology; in religion the age was one not of’ advance but of rest; they gained for the church a great and widespread respect and influence.
Another salient feature of the Moderate policy was the consolidation of discipline. It is frequently asserted that discipline was lax at this period and that ministers of scandalous lives were, allowed to continue in their charges. It cannot, however, be shown that the leaders of the church at this time sought to procure the miscarriage of justice in dealing with such cases. That some offenders were acquitted on technical grounds is true; it was insisted that in dealing with the character and status of their members the church courts should proceed in ,as formal and punctilious a manner as civil tribunals, and should recognize the same laws of evidence; in fact, that the same securities should exist in the church as in the state for individual rights and liberties.
The religious state of the Highlands, to which at the period of the Union the Reformation had only very partially penetrated, occupied the attention of the church during the whole of the 18th century. In 1725 the gift called the royal bounty” was first granted, a subsidy amounting at first , to £1000 per annum, increased in George IV.’s reign to £2000; its original object was to Religious assist the reclamation of the Highlands from Roman Catholicism by means of catechists and teachers.
The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, Highlands. incorporated in 1709, with a view partly to the wants of the Highlands, worked in concert with the Church of Scotland, setting up schools in remote and destitute localities, while the church promoted various schemes for the dissemination of the Scriptures in Gaelic and the encouragement of Gaelic students. In these labours as well as in other directions the church was sadly hampered by poverty. The need of an increase in the number of parishes was urgently felt, and, though chapels began to be built about 1796, they were provided only in wealthy places by local voluntary liberality; for the supply of the necessities of poor outlying districts no one as yet looked to any agency but the state. In every part of the country many of the ministers were miserably poor; there were many stipends, even of important parishes, not exceeding £40 a year; and it was not till after many debates in the assembly and appeals to the government that an act was obtained in 1810 which made up the poorer livings to £150 a year by a grant from the public exchequer. The churches and manses were frequently of the most miserable description, if not falling to decay.
With the close of the 18th century a great change passed over the spirit of the church. The new activity which sprang up everywhere after the French Revolution produced Haldanes. in Scotland a revival of Evangelicalism. Moderatism had cultivated the ministers too fast for the people, and the church had become to a large extent more of a dignified ruler than a spiritual mother. About this time the brothers Robert and James Haldane devoted themselves to the work of promoting Evangelical Christianity, James making missionary journeys throughout Scotland and founding Sunday schools; and in 1798 the eccentric preacher Rowland Hill visited Scotland at their request. In the journals of these evangelists dark pictures are drawn of the religious state of the country, though their censorious tone detracts greatly from their value; but there is no doubt that the efforts of the Haldanes brought about or coincided with a quickening of the religious spirit of Scotland.
The assembly of 1799 passed an act forbidding the admission to the pulpits of laymen or of ministers of other churches, and issued a manifesto on Sunday schools. These acts helped greatly, to discredit the Moderate party, of whose spirit they were the outcome; and that party further injured their standing in the country by attacking Leslie, afterwards Sir John Leslie, on frivolous grounds, a phrase he had used about Hume’s view of causation, when he applied for the chair of mathematics in Edinburgh. In this dispute, which made a great sensation in the country, the popular party successfully defended Leslie, and thus obtained the sympathy of the enlightened portion of the community. In 1810 the Christian Instructor began to appear under the editorship of Dr Andrew Thomson, a churchman of vigorous intellect and noble character. It was an ably written review, in which the theology of the Haldanes asserted itself in a somewhat dogmatic and confident tone against all unsoundness and Moderatism, clearly proclaiming that the former things had passed away. The question of pluralities began to be agitated in 1813, and gave rise to a long struggle, in which Dr Thomas Chalmers took a notable part, and which terminated in the regulation that a university chair or principalship should not be held along with a parish which was not close to the university seat.
The growth of Evangelical sentiment in the church, along with the example of the great missionary societies founded in the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, led to the institution of the various missionary schemes still carried on, and their history forms the chief part of the history of the church for a number of years. The education scheme, having for its object the planting of schools in destitute Highland districts, came into existence in 1824.
The foreign mission committee was formed in 1825, at the instance of Dr John Inglis (1763—1834), a leader of the Moderate party; and Dr Alexander Duff went to India in 1829 as the first missionary of the Church of Scotland. The church extension committee was first appointed in 1828, and in 1834 it was made permanent. The colonial scheme was inaugurated in 1836 and the Jewish mission in 1838, Robert Murray McCheyne (1813— 1843) and Andrew Alexander Bonar (1810—1892) setting out in the following year as a deputation to inquire into the condition of the Jews in Palestine and Turkey and on the continent of Europe. Of these schemes that of church extension has most historical importance. It was originally formed to collect information regarding the spiritual wants of the country, and to apply to the government to build the churches found to be necessary.
As the population of Scotland had doubled since the Reformation, and its distribution had been completely altered in many counties, while the number of parish churches remained unchanged, and meeting-houses had only been erected where seceding congregations required them, the need for new churches was very great. The application to government for aid, however, proved the occasion of a “Voluntary controversy,” which raged with great fierceness for many years and has never completely subsided. The union of the Burgher and the Antiburgher bodies in1820 in the United Secession, both having previously come to hold Voluntary principles, added to the influence of these principles in the country, while the political excitement of the period disposed men’s minds to such discussions.
The government built forty-two churches in the Highlands, providing them with a slender endowment; and these are still known as parliamentary churches. Under Thomas Chalmers, however, the church extension committee struck out a new line of action. That great philanthropist had come to see that the church could only reach the masses of the people effectively by greatly increasing the number of her places of worship and abolishing or minimizing seat-rents in the poorer districts. In his powerful defence of establishments against the voluntaries in both Scotland and England, in which his ablest assistants were those who afterwards became, along with him, the leaders of the Free Church, he pleaded that an established church to be effective must divide the country territorially into a large number of small parishes, so that every corner of the land and every person, of whatever class, shall actually enjoy the benefits of the parochial machinery. This ” territorial principle “ the church has steadily kept in view ever since.
The zealous orthodoxy of the church found at this period several occasions to assert itself. John McLeod Campbell minister of Row, was deposed by the assembly of 1830 for teaching that assurance is of the essence of faith and that Christ died for all men. He has since been recognized as one of the profoundest Scottish theologians of the 19th century, although his deposition was never removed. The same assembly condemned the doctrine put forth by Edward Irving, that Christ took upon Him the sinful nature of man and was not impeccable, and Irving was deposed five years later by the presbytery of Annan, when the outburst of supposed miraculous gifts in his church in London had rendered him still more obnoxious to the strict censures of the period. In 1841 Thomas Wright of Barthwick (1785—1855) was deposed for a series of heretical opinions, which he denied that he held, but which were said to be contained in a series of devotional works of a somewhat mystical order hich he had published. -
The influence of dissent also acted along with the rapidly rising religious fervour of the age in quickening in the church that sense of a divine mission, and of the right and power to carry out that mission without obstruction from any worldly authority, which belongs to the essential consciousness of the Christian church. An agitation against patronage, the ancient root of evil, and the formation. of an anti-atronage society, helped in the same direction.
The Ten Years’ Conflict, which began in. 1833 with the passing by the assembly of the Veto and the Chapel Acts, is treated in the pages on the Free Church of Scotland, and it is not necessary to dwell further in this place on the consequences of those acts.
The assembly of 1843, from which the exodus took place, proceeded to undo the acts of the church during the preceding nine years. The Veto was not repealed but ignored, as having never bad the force of law; the Strathbogie ministers were recognized as if no sentence of deposition had gone forth against them. The protest which the moderator had read before leaving the assembly had been left on the table; and an act of separation and deed of demission were received from the ministers of the newly formed Free Church, who were now declared to have severed their connexion with the Church of Scotland. The assembly addressed a pastoral letter to the people of the country, in which, while declining to “admit that the course taken by the seceders was justified by irresistible necessity,” they counselled peace and goodwill towards them, and called for the loyal support of the remaining members of the church.
Two acts at once passed through the legislature in answer to the claims put forward by the church. The Scottish Benefices Act of Lord Aberdeen, 1843, gave the people power to state objections personal to a presentee, and bearing on his fitness for the particular charge to which he was presented, and also authorized the presbytery in dealing with the objections to look to the number and character of the objectors. Sir James Graham’s Act, 1844, provided for the erection of new parishes, and thus created the legal basis for a scheme under which chapel ministers might become members of church courts.
The Disruption left the Church of Scotland in a sadly maimed condition. Of 1203 ministers 451 left her, and among these Develop- were many of her foremost men. A third of her ment of membership is computed to have gone with them. the church In Edinburgh many of her churches were nearly empty. The Gaelic-speaking population of the northern counties completely deserted her. All her missionaries left her but one. She had no gale of popular enthusiasm to carry her forward, representing as she did not a newly arisen principle but the opposition to a principle which she maintained to be dangerous and exaggerated. For many years she had much obloquy to endure. But she at once set herself to the task of filling up vacancies and recruiting the missionary staff. A lay. association was formed, which raised large sums of money for the missionary schemes, so that their income was not allowed seriously to decline. The good works of the church, indeed, were in a few years not only continued but extended. All hope being lost that parliament would endow the new churches built by the church extension scheme of Dr Chalmers, it was felt that this also must be the work of voluntary liberality. Under Dr James Robertson, professor of church history in Edinburgh, one of the leading champions of the Moderate policy in the Ten Years’ Conflict, the extension scheme was transformed into the endowment scheme, and the church accepted it as her duty and her task to provide the machinery of new parishes where they were required. By 1854, 30 new parishes had been added at a cost of £130,000, and from this time forward the work of endowment proceeded still more rapidly. In 1843 the number of parishes had been 924; in 1909 it was 1437. By the Poor Law Act of 1845 parishes were enabled to remove the care of the poor from the minister and the kirksession, in whom it was formerly vested, and to appoint a parochial board with power to assess the ratepayers. Those branches of the church extension scheme which dealt with church building, and with the opening of new missions to meet the wants of increasing populations, were taken up by a new department, railed the Home Mission scheme. The home mission as the pioneer in opening up new fields of labour, and the endowment scheme which renders permanent the religious centres that the mission has founded, are both traceable to Dr Chalmers.
Education Act of 1872 severed the ancient tie connecting church and school together, and created a school board having charge of the education of each parish. At that date the Church of Scotland had 300 schools, mostly in the Highlands. The church continued till lately to carry on normal schools for the training of teachers in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen; but these, along with the normal schools of the United Free Church, were recently made over to the state.
In 1874 patronage was abolished. The working of Lord Aberdeen’s Act had given rise to many unedifying scenes and to lengthy struggles over disputed settlements, and it was early felt that some change at least was necessary in the law. The agitation on the subject went on in the assembly from 1851 to 1869, when the assembly by a large majority condemned patronage as restored by the Act of Queen Anne, and resolved to petition parliament for its removal. The request was granted, and the right of electing parish ministers was conferred by the Patronage Act 1874 on the congregation; thus a grievance of old standing, from which all the ecclesiastical troubles of a century and a half had sprung, was removed and the church placed on. a thoroughly democratic basis. This act, combined with various efforts made within the church for her improvement, secured for the Scottish Establishment a large measure of popular favour, and in the last half of the i9th century she grew rapidly both in numbers and in Improveinfluence. This revival was largely due on the one meats in hand to the improvement of her worship which began with the efforts of Dr Robert Lee (1804—1868), minister worship. of Old Greyfriars, Edinburgh, and professor of Biblical criticism in Edinburgh university. By introducing into his church a printed book of prayers and also an organ, Dr Lee stirred up vehement controversies in the church courts, which resulted in the recognition. of the liberty of congregations to improve their worship. The Church Service Society, having for its object the study of ancient and modern liturgies, with a view to the preparation of forms of prayer for public worship, was founded in 1865; it has published eight editions of its “ Book of Common Order,” which, though at first regarded with suspicion, has been largely used by the clergy.
Church music has been cultivated and improved in a marked degree; and hymns have been introduced to supplement the psalms and paraphrases; in 1898 a committee appointed by the Church of Scotland, the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland issued The Church Hymnary, which is authorized for use in all these churches alike. Architecture has restored many of the larger churches from their disfigurement by partition walls and galleries, though much still remains to be done in this way, and has erected new churches of a style favourable to devotion. The cathedral churches of St Giles, Edinburgh, and of Brechin and Dunblane, the abbey church of Paisley and the Church of the Holy Trinity, St Andrews, have been restored; and the abbey of Iona, handed over to the Church of Scotland by the duke of Argyll, is now once more fitted up for worship.
The fervour of the church found a channel in the operations of a “ Committee on Christian Life and Work,” appointed in 1869 with the aim of exercising some supervision of the work of the church throughout the country, the stimulating evangelistic efforts and organizing the Christian labours of lay agents. This committee publishes a Life and magazine of “ Life and Work,” which has a circulation or of over 100,000 and has organized young men’s gilds in connexion with congregations and revived the ancient order of deaconesses. It was to reinforce this element of the church’s activity, as well as to strengthen her generally, that James Baird (1802—1876) in 1873 made the munificent gift of £500,000. This fund is administered by a trust which is not under the control of the church, and the revenue is used mainly in aid of church building and endowment throughout the country.
The church has greatly increased of late years in width of view and liberality of sentiment, and shelters various tendencies of thought. A volume of Scotch Sermons, published in 1880 by ministers holding liberal views, brought out the fact that the church would not wfflingly be led into prosecutions for heresy. After this, however, there was a revival on the part of some of the clergy of High Church and orthodox sentiment.
The Scottish Church Society was founded in 1892 with Dr John Macleod of Govan as president, “to defend and advance catholic doctrine as set forth in the ancient creeds and embodied in the standards of the Church of Scotland.” In 1897, however, Alexander Robinson of Kilmun was deposed by the presbytery of Dunoon acting under the orders of the Assembly on account of the views contained in his book The Saviour in the Newer Light, in which the results of modern criticism of the Gospels were set forth with some ability. The National Church Union, of which Professor A. Menzies was president, was formed after this event by ministers and elders who feared that the cause of free theological inquiry was in peril in the church. This body at once raised the question of the relaxation of subscription, which was in a few years seriously taken up by the church, and the National Church Union, feeling that in this, as well as in the growth of liberal opinion in the church its object had been attained, discontinued its operations. The Scottish Church Society still carries on its work.
The question of subscription has been more or less before the church for many years. The formula adopted by the assembly of 1751I had still to be signed by ministers, and was felt to be much too strict. After debates extending over many years, the assembly of 1889 fell back on the words of the act of parliament 1693, passed to enable the Episcopalian clergy to join the establishment, in which the candidate declared the Confession of Faith to be the confession of his faith, owned the doctrine therein contained to be the true doctrine and promised faithfully to adhere to it. This was accompanied by a Declaratory Act in which the church expressed its desire to enlarge rather than curtail the liberty hitherto enjoyed. Ten years later the assembly was again debating the question of subscription. A committee appointed in 1899 to inquire into the powers of the church in the matter reported that the power of the church was merely administrative, it was in her power as cases arose to prosecute or to refrain from prosecuting, but that she had no power to modify the confession in any way. Here the matter might have remained, but that the approach to parliament of the United and the Free Churches after the decision of the House of Lords in 1904 offered an opportunity for asking parliament to remove a grievance the church herself had no power to deal with. The Scottish Churches Bill of 1905 afforded relief to all the Presbyterian churches. It did not do what the Church of Scotland asked, viz, allow the words of the act of 1690 to be used as the formula; but it removed that of 1693 and left it to the church to frame a new formula for her ministers and professors, an undertaking to which she is seriously addressing herself.
The agitation for disestablishment sprang up afresh after the passing of the Church Patronage Act (Scotland); each assembly of the Free Church passed a resolution in favour of it, and the United Free Church continued this testimony.
In 1890 Mr Gladstone declared for disestablishment, and under his government of 1892 a Disestablishment Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Sir Charles Cameron, in two successive sessions, 1893—1894. After the defeat of the Liberal government in 1895, the church was for ten years relieved from this anxiety, nor had the attack been renewed up to 1911. A counter-movement was represented by a bill introduced into parliament in 1886 in order to declare the spiritual independence of the Church of Scotland, in the hope that the way might be opened to a reunion of the Presbyterian bodies. The act of 1905 has altered the circumstances of the churches in this regard. During the agitation the church was much occupied with the question of her own defence, and after it died down, various schemes were entertained for the improvement of her position without and within. She more than once expressed her willingness to confer with the daughter Presbyterian churches, with a view to their sharing with her the benefits of her position.
Since 1908 the subject of the union of the churches has been much spoken of. The quarter-centenary of the birth of Calvin occurring at the time of the Church assemblies of 1909 brought the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church assembly together for a memorial service in St Giles’s; and a committee on union, consisting of 105 representatives from each assembly, was appointed.
The Church of Scotland has made few contributions of importance to the movement of Biblical Criticism which has entered so deeply into the religious life of Scotland, but she has had distinguished writers on theology. Robert Lee (1804—1868), Scottish minister of Old Greyfriars and professor of Biblical criticism in Edinburgh University, fought a long battle for the liberty and the improvement of worship, of which the churches generally now reap the advantage. He held clear views as to the necessity of reform in the doctrine of the church as well; but these he died without publishing. Norman Macleod, minister of the Barony Parish, Glasgow, a man of great natural eloquence and an ardent philanthropist, enjoyed the warm friendship of Queen Victoria and was beloved by his nation. John Caird, professor of divinity and then principal of Glasgow University, wrote An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, exercised a deep influence as a teacher on Scottish thought, and was the most distinguished British preacher, of the intellectual order, of his day. John Tulloch, principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews, wrote Theism, Leaders of the Reformation, Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in the 17th century, and many other works, and was an effective champion of’ doctrinal liberty. He was succeeded at St Andrews and as Liberal leader in the assembly by John Cunningham (1819—1893), who wrote a very successful History of the Church of Scotland. Robert Herbert Story (1835—1906), principal after Caird of Glasgow University, stood by the side of Lee and Tulloch in their assembly contendings and was an outspoken defender of the National Church against her spoliators from without. Of his works may be mentioned lives of his father Dr Story, of Carstairs, and of Robert Lee. His life was written by his daughters. Andrew K. H. Boyd (1825—1899), minister of St Andrews, was widely known by the numerous volumes of essays, especially the” Recreations of a Country Parson.” His “ Twenty-five Years of St Andrews “ contains a good deal of information. Robert Flint published The Philosophy of History in Europe, Historical Philosophy in France; his volumes on Theism and Antitheistic Theories have passed through many editions.
The Church of Scotland in 1909 had 1437 parishes and 251 chapels and preaching stations. The General Assembly consisted of 741 members. The professors of divinity at the four Scottish universities must be ministers of the church, but a proposal has been made to throw the chairs open to ministers of any of the Presbyterian bodies. The foreign mission employs fifty-two ordained and about as many unordained, medical, industrial and other missionaries, with a large number of native agents, in India, East Africa and China. Jewish missions are kept up at five stations in the East, and the colonial committee supplies ordinances to emigrants from Scotland in many, of the dependencies of the empire. The small-livings fund aims at bringing up to £200 a year all stipends which fall short of that sum, of which there are nearly 400. About £4000 a year was still required in 1910 to carry out the object of this scheme.
The parliamentary return of 1888 showed the value of the 876 parishes to be £375,678 and the stipends paid to amount (exclusive of manses and glebes) to £242,330. The value of augmentations obtained since that date is more than balanced by the decline of prices, so that the total revenue of the church from this source is about £220,000. The unexhausted teinds, according to the return in 1907, amounted to about £133,000. The exchequer pays to 190 poor parishes and 42 Highland churches, from church property in the hands of the crown, £17,040. From burgh and other local funds the church derives a revenue of £23,501. The church has herself added to her endowments, for the equipment of 453 new parishes, £1,681,330, yielding over £54,000 a year. The entire endowments of the church, including manses and glebes but not church buildings, is about £300,000.
In the absence of a religious census it is not possible to deduce from statistics supplied by the churches themselves any trustworthy conclusion as to the percentage of the population adhering to each church. The Communion rolls of the parish churches require to be kept with care, as in vacancies they form the register of those entitled to vote for the new minister. In the able statistical discussions in the reports of the United Free Church it is pointed out that in the figures furnished by the churches the numbers of members and the numbers of deaths are not in the same proportion as the population of the country and the general death-rate, and the conclusion is drawn that the number of members is in each case too great. The Free Church in 1909 had 150 congregations and 77 ministers; its members and adherents are stated to number 60,000, and its income, apart from investments, is £22,542. The membership of the larger churches is that of corfimunicants only; in the Highlands especially the adherents of these churches who do not communicate form a large proportion of those connected with the church.
The Scottish Episcopal Church in 1909 numbered 388 charges with 52,029 communicants. Its charges are numerous in proportion to its membership, having an average of 134 members, while the Church of Scotland averages 497 and the United Free Church 313 members for each congregation. The adherents of each of these churches outnumber their communicants in a ratio which is variously estimated. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was restored in Scotland in 1878. There are six dioceses (two archbishops, one of Edinburgh and St Andrews and the other of Glasgpw; and four suffragans, Aberdeen, Argyll and the Isles, Dunkeld and Galloway), with, in 1909, 550 priests; 398 churches, chapels and stations; and a Roman Catholic population estimated at about 519,000.
The original Secession Church has 5 presbyteries and 26 congregations; and the remnant of the Reformed Presbyterian Church which did not join the Free Church in 1876, 2 presbyteries and 11 congregations. The Congregational and Evangelical Union (formed by the amalgamation of the Congregational and Evangelical Churches in 1896), has 183 churches; and the remnant of the Evangelical Union, 7 churches. The Baptist Union has 128 congregations and the Wesleyan Methodists 40 churches.
In common with many larger denominations, the Church of Scotland faces many current difficulties. Since the 1950s its membership has continued to decline, now being less than half what it was then. It faces financial strains and the costly upkeep of many older ecclesiastical buildings. Recruitment of ministers was, until recently, a further concern. However, the number of candidates has increased in recent years. Today, around 1400 ministers serve about 550,000 members, and a considerably higher number of adherents.
Since the Reformation, one of the church’s tenets has been ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei – a ‘church which is reformed must always be reformed according to the Word of God’. Recently, the General Assembly produced its ‘Church without Walls’ report (2001) which embodies an ethos of change, and a focus on the grassroots life of the Church rather than its institutions.
As in most western denominations, the membership of the Church of Scotland is also aging, and it has struggled to maintain its relevance to the younger generations. The Church has made attempts to address their problems, at both a congregational and national level. The annual National Youth Assembly and the presence of youth delegates at the General Assembly have served as a visible reminder of the Church’s commitment. The Church's National Youth Assembly has grown in prominence and attendance in recent years.
Since as early as 1968, all ministries and offices in the church have been open to women and men on an equal basis. Significantly, the majority of ministers now in training are women. However, it was not until 2004 that a woman was chosen to be Moderator of the General Assembly. Dr Alison Elliot was also the first elder to be chosen since George Buchanan, four centuries before. The Rev Sheilagh M. Kesting has been nominated as Moderator-designate for 2007, which will make her the first female minister to be Moderator.
Anatomy Index of Contents